Why I Shot in Auto and (Gasp!) Used a Flash


Yesterday, my girls and I took a little trip to the great capital of Washington, D.C.  We've lived an hour away for the past three years, but never spent much time there.  I wanted them to experience it before our big move to the other side of the country.  (Plus, Dennis proposed to me in front of the Washington Monument...I wanted to see that spot again.)

While we were there, I took a few shots in auto and actually used my flash.  (For real!)

One of the benefits of learning your camera is taking control of it!  In auto mode, the camera makes all the decisions like the exposure settings, whether or not the flash should fire, and what should be most in focus. Once you understand more about your camera, you can tell your camera "you're not the boss of me!" and make all these decisions on your own.  It usually results in a better photo, or at least a photo that looks like you want it to look.

So, I normally shoot in manual mode (where I make all the decisions) or at least in aperture priority mode (where I select the aperture and the camera determines the shutter speed).

But yesterday, lots of things were working against me.  And I was getting photos like this one:

It's not terrible.  Those are still adorable girls.  But, I knew there were problems when I glanced at the back of my camera.

In this situation, I had a lot working against me:

  • I was the only adult in a very public place with two excited kids.  I needed to pay attention to them, not quietly think about my exposure settings.
  • It was super bright.  That made it really hard for me to see the photos I just took on the back of my camera.  Normally, I like to take a photo, look at it, and then make adjustments.  I couldn't do that.
  • The dynamic range between the light on the girls' faces and the sky was huge.  That means there was a big difference between the brightness of the sky and the brightness of their faces.  If I exposed for the sky, their faces would be super dark.  If I exposed for their faces, the sky (and possibly the Washington Monument) would be completely white.
  • They kept moving around so I had a hard time getting them in focus.
  • This was a one-time shot.  I knew I wouldn't be able to come back and try this one again. 

And so, I switched to Auto.  The flash came on.  Normally, I don't like the flash because it creates harsh, directional light.  But, in this situation, it helped lessen the dynamic range, brightening their faces so the sky and the girls could both look properly exposed.

And I have to say, I'm happy with the result.  A professional photographer being paid big bucks wouldn't want to put this photo in her portfolio.  But I'm not a professional photographer.  I'm a mom.  This photo captures my girls in a super special place.  And it's emotionally perfect to me.

You might be at the point where you understand your camera and shoot in manual mode.  But just remember, it's not something you have to do all the time.

IF you want to learn more about your camera, and be able to shoot in manual mode when you want, check out my beginner's workshop.  The next session starts in September.  

A Quick Lightroom Fix


We all try to get our photos the best they can be SOOC.  (That stands for straight out of camera, and means an unedited photo.)  But, the truth is we all mess up sometimes (maybe a lot).  

That's where editing programs can save the day!  Pretty much everyone has heard of Photoshop.  In fact, the program is so prevalent, "photoshop" is now a verb referring to the over-editing of magazine photos.

I tried using Photoshop once.  It is SUPER HARD to learn.  Sure, it's powerful and can make some serious changes to photos.  However, it's not intuitive and just takes a lot of time to both learn and use.

That's where Lightroom saves the day. Lightroom is an easier to use, but still super powerful editing program.  I use Lightroom for all my photo organizing and editing.  I'm no expert when it comes to Lightroom, but I can pretty easily make some quick fixes to my photos.

I made this video showing some of the changes I made to the photo above.  A Lightroom expert would certainly be able to improve this one even further.  But for now, I'm happy with the improvement.  

If you are interested in learning more about Lightroom and how to use it, I recommend Photography Concentrate's Super Photo Editing Skills.  My mom really liked a class she took on Craftsy.  


How to Change Your Focal Point on Your DSLR

When we keep our cameras in Auto, the camera is the boss.  It makes all the decisions for us.  That’s fine when starting out, but as you move forward in your photography journey, it is time to tell your camera, “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!”

This starts with being able to select your focal point.

The focal point is the part in the image that is the clearest, the most in focus.  When shooting in Auto, you camera decides what should be in focus.  Sometimes this works great but other times, we want something else to be in focus.

Look at the photo below.  The camera decided the plant should be in focus and now I’m all blurry. 

In the next photo, I decided what I want to be in focus (ME!).  Now the plant looks blurry and I’m pretty clear.  

Try this out for yourself.  In Auto mode, push your shutter down halfway.  Do you see those little red boxes or dots that light up?  Those are the points in your image your camera thinks should be most in focus.

I shot the photo below in Auto mode.  The camera decided the elephant should be in focus.  When I looked through my viewfinder, I saw a red square light up on the elephant.  You might see a dot light up on the point your camera thinks might be most in focus.  Or, you might see several spots light up.

But, what if I want the monkey to be in focus?

Once I change this setting on my camera, I can move my focal point around and look!  The monkey is the focal point.

You are probably used to shooting in Auto mode.  (And that’s just fine)

BUT, we can’t select the focal point in auto mode (again, the camera wants to be the boss!)

So, the first step in being able to change focal points is to move off of auto mode.  You can do that by turning the dial that looks something like this.

If you are already familiar with Aperture priority mode (A or Av on your dial), you can switch to that mode. (If you have no idea what I mean here, don’t worry.)
If you are not familiar with Aperture priority mode, you can use Program mode.  There’s a setting on your dial with a “P.”  That P stands for “program mode.” 
Program mode is very similar to Auto. It makes lots of decisions for you, decisions related to your exposure.   However, in program mode, you can take control over some aspects, one of them being able to select your focal point.
When you first turn the dial to program mode, your camera is still going to select the point it thinks should be most in focus.  

The next step is to change a setting that will allow you to select your focal point.  How you do this is going to depend on your camera.  If you Google "manual focus point selection" and then the make and model of your camera, you should be able to find how to change this setting.  

Once you've made this change, you'll be able to move that little box or dot around.

To select your focal point, look through the viewfinder of your camera.  Push your shutter down halfway to wake up your camera.  You should see where your focal point is currently.  You can now move it around!  My camera has a toggle that allows me to move it, other cameras will move the focal point with a dial.

Have fun with this!  Play around and practice.  Place two objects far away from each other (from front to back).  Then, practice placing your focal point on one spot and then the other.  

Questions??  Please ask!